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Anarch Half-Hoare

Town Charters (Saltpans & Fairmarket)

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"There has never been a city in the riverlands, strange as that might seem (though large market towns are common), likely because of the fractious history of the region and a tendency for the kings of the past to refuse the charters that might have given some Saltpans or Lord Harroway’s Town or Fairmarket leave to expand." - Riverlands, TWOIAF

 

What are town charters?

I'm a bit at a loss with finding proper information on this, within GRRM's works or even on the wider internet as to what a character technically entails. There are various conflicting explanations some sources claim that towns might need charters from their King or Overlords to be allowed to expand warehouses or docks, or even to be allowed to host markets etc.

Are these places ruled by a lord or a landed knight?

 

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I always thought that was something Ran added as a bit of speculation, and Martin did not feel the need to disagree.

The use of the word "likely" made me lean to this theory. Anyway, maybe I'm way off the mark.

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Posted (edited)

23 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

I always thought that was something Ran added as a bit of speculation, and Martin did not feel the need to disagree.

The use of the word "likely" made me lean to this theory. Anyway, maybe I'm way off the mark.

George himself came up with the whole charter thing when he introduced the Defiance of Duskendale and its back story in AFfC.

Aside from that, the whole charter thing as well as George's concept of medieval towns and cities is completely unrealistic. Towns and cities are usually controlled by the citizens of that city. They are run by a very powerful merchant class who make up their own nobility, of course, but a different and far more powerful nobility than feudal lords exploiting peasants and serfs.

Oldtown, Lannisport, Gulltown, White Harbor, and even King's Landing shouldn't be in the hands of feudal lords. They should be run by the merchant class who also should be in constant conflict with the king and whatever lord dared to limit their powers and privileges.

What a charter issued to a feudal lord should even mean aside from tax and custom benefits I don't understand in this context. Realistically, a king would grant such a charter to the people of a town, freeing them from the yoke of the feudal lords and granting them also considerable liberties which make them more independent from the Crown.

Edited by Lord Varys

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Posted (edited)

Thanks, Lord Varys.

That was roughly my understanding (and confusion) too. I suppose there is some way we can compromise this, namely then with the notion that towns without charters aren't allowed to just build or expand whatever new fancy buildings they'd like to build. It could've made more sense if charterless towns were only 'ruled' by landed knights or such perhaps, but Lord Harroway's Town shows that it's ruled by a lord, although admittedly that could just be a 'lowly' lord (GRRM at one point at least explains that there are different 'ranks' of lords, like barons, counts, dukes etc.).

 

That is about the only way I can stick some sense of it.

Edited by Anarch Half-Hoare

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On 3/3/2018 at 0:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

Aside from that, the whole charter thing as well as George's concept of medieval towns and cities is completely unrealistic. Towns and cities are usually controlled by the citizens of that city. They are run by a very powerful merchant class who make up their own nobility, of course, but a different and far more powerful nobility than feudal lords exploiting peasants and serfs.

Oldtown, Lannisport, Gulltown, White Harbor, and even King's Landing shouldn't be in the hands of feudal lords. They should be run by the merchant class who also should be in constant conflict with the king and whatever lord dared to limit their powers and privileges.

Wrong. It´s not "unrealistic".

The prevalence of cities with self-government, whether by virtue of a charter from King/Lord, or pure usurpation (as in North Italy since 11th century) was a feature of Western Europe since roughly 12th century.

Look elsewhere - and the city self-government is missing. Islamic world, Byzantium, Russia, China... merchants under heel of government.

Even in Western Europe, you see cities and regions with less independence. The cities of Kingdom of Naples were much less independent than those of Italy. Poland did have "Magdeburg rights", but these were very limited compared to what most German cities had.

So it´s plausible... but a difference between Westeros and High Medieval Western Europe.

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In addition to Jaak's points, it is my understanding that this is something that evolved with time. It is true that in the Late Middle Ages the power in many cities shifted from the nobility to the wealthy merchants (12th century onward), but in earlier periods the nobility kept a strong control of their domains (and still managed to retain it in many areas for a lot of time).

We may also find plurality in Westeros. It seems to me, for instance, than the Lannsiters have a very strong grasp over Lannisport. Meanwhile, I'd say that the Graftons are of not much consequence in Gulltown (if they were, you'd expect them to be much more influential than they are).

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On 4.3.2018 at 7:29 PM, Jaak said:

Wrong. It´s not "unrealistic".

The prevalence of cities with self-government, whether by virtue of a charter from King/Lord, or pure usurpation (as in North Italy since 11th century) was a feature of Western Europe since roughly 12th century.

Look elsewhere - and the city self-government is missing. Islamic world, Byzantium, Russia, China... merchants under heel of government.

Even in Western Europe, you see cities and regions with less independence. The cities of Kingdom of Naples were much less independent than those of Italy. Poland did have "Magdeburg rights", but these were very limited compared to what most German cities had.

So it´s plausible... but a difference between Westeros and High Medieval Western Europe.

George usually bases his stuff on the English example. And there the city of London - the capital of the kingdom - had an independent major who could actually stand up to the kings (and actually did that).

Charters as George uses them as plot device in the Defiance of Duskendale imply more emancipation from the Crown and the feudal lords, more self-government if you so will.

But there is nothing there in the cities of the Seven Kingdoms. They all belong their lords, and their lords are the only relevant political entities there (aside from Oldtown, which once harbored the High Septon).

6 minutes ago, The hairy bear said:

We may also find plurality in Westeros. It seems to me, for instance, than the Lannsiters have a very strong grasp over Lannisport. Meanwhile, I'd say that the Graftons are of not much consequence in Gulltown (if they were, you'd expect them to be much more influential than they are).

I'd say this is mainly due to the fact that we pretty don't know anything about Gulltown nor have ever been there. I see no reason to believe the Graftons have less power in their city than, say, the Lannisters of Lannisport have in their city. Or the Manderlys in their city.

The Shetts might still be a power in Gulltown, but there is no indication the nobility shares power their with the commons.

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3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

George usually bases his stuff on the English example.

But that doesn't mean that everything that doesn't work as it did in England is "unrealistic".  :)

Bristish Middle Ages is George's main source of inspiration, of course, but there are many others. In terms of periods, we know that Westeros prime referent is the War of Roses (15th c.), but he deliberately chooses to have some elements such as the heraldry or the armors from a much earlier period. The lack of a powerful and organized bourgeoisie could be another one of those things.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

I'd say this is mainly due to the fact that we pretty don't know anything about Gulltown nor have ever been there. I see no reason to believe the Graftons have less power in their city than, say, the Lannisters of Lannisport have in their city. Or the Manderlys in their city.

I'm assuming the Graftons are not as powerful as one of the other four noble lords that control a city (Lannisters, Martells, Hightowers and Manderlys) because of their complete lack of involvement in the politics of Westeros, both historically and during the Wot5k. We don't hear of any Grafton during the Conquest, or during the Dance, or at the conquest of Dorne. They are not seen at Lysa's court, do not join the Lords Declarant, and are not given consideration in Littlefinger's machinations. We've never heard of a Grafton in the Kingsguard, or in the Small Council, or marrying any other family. All that we got about him is the offhand remark that Robert killed Marq Grafton at the walls of Gulltown.

I agree that all this is circumstantial evidence, but those are the vibes I get. And if there's one city in Westeros where the merchant may be more powerful that will be Gulltown, with no great family ruling it and geographically closer to the Free Cities (where the merchants are actually ruling).

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18 minutes ago, The hairy bear said:

But that doesn't mean that everything that doesn't work as it did in England is "unrealistic".  :)

In a sense it is, because in a truly urban setting - like the Free Cities, or Renaissance Italy - the merchant (princes) are the nobility (or royalty) and the royalty/nobility are merchant (princes). That's how it goes in the real world, and that's how it goes in the Free Cities. There are ancient families of noble blood there, of course, but power comes with trade and money, not ancient names or feudal control over some levies and villages.

If you earn yourself a fortune as a sea captain - say, the Corlys Velaryon way - you can rise to the top in a city like Pentos (like Illyrio did). And if you make some bad investment/business decision you and your family are quickly gone or enslaved.

George's setting completely ignores social mobility of that type in Westeros. The merchant class should be a very powerful and influential faction in KL, capable to threaten and intimidate the Crown. They should control the rabble and the city's law enforcement rather than the Crown (if not de iure then de facto) simply because they are the people generating the money, not the royals and their inefficient bureaucracy.

18 minutes ago, The hairy bear said:

Bristish Middle Ages is George's main source of inspiration, of course, but there are many others. In terms of periods, we know that Westeros prime referent is the War of Roses (15th c.), but he deliberately chooses to have some elements such as the heraldry or the armors from a much earlier period. The lack of a powerful and organized bourgeoisie could be another one of those things.

Let's just say he clearly didn't care much about depicting (or including) medieval cities in his world. That's why there are only five, and only one is a major location in the series - and even that one is pretty much underdeveloped. We don't know all that much about KL, a little bit about White Harbor and Oldtown (since AFfC/ADwD) and essentially nothing about Gulltown and Lannisport.

George cares much more about castles and heraldry. And that's fine, too, but from a world-building POV it would make much more sense if there had been more cities and larger towns, especially in the Reach, the Riverlands, the Vale and the West.

18 minutes ago, The hairy bear said:

I'm assuming the Graftons are not as powerful as one of the other four noble lords that control a city (Lannisters, Martells, Hightowers and Manderlys) because of their complete lack of involvement in the politics of Westeros, both historically and during the Wot5k. We don't hear of any Grafton during the Conquest, or during the Dance, or at the conquest of Dorne. They are not seen at Lysa's court, do not join the Lords Declarant, and are not given consideration in Littlefinger's machinations. We've never heard of a Grafton in the Kingsguard, or in the Small Council, or marrying any other family. All that we got about him is the offhand remark that Robert killed Marq Grafton at the walls of Gulltown.

They could just prefer trade to big politics. Gulltown certainly is the richest place in the Vale, and thus one its major powers, the main source of the wealth of the Arryns. It is the main harbor of the Vale, the place where goods come in and go out.

It wouldn't be a stretch to assume that the Graftons always played a (and occasionally even the) dominant role in Vale politics prior to the Conquest. And afterwards they may have played the Hightower game, being content with their city.

18 minutes ago, The hairy bear said:

I agree that all this is circumstantial evidence, but those are the vibes I get. And if there's one city in Westeros where the merchant may be more powerful that will be Gulltown, with no great family ruling it and geographically closer to the Free Cities (where the merchants are actually ruling).

What is your take on this merchant vs. nobles thing? Are the Hightowers, Redwynes, Graftons, Lannisters of Lannisport, etc. merchant lords, or are they still proper feudal lords who don't own ships and conduct business by themselves like filthy commoners? That is the real difference between proper nobility (in North-Western Europe) and the patricians of the cities.

Is George blurring the line there - are the Redwynes traders, or do they just live off the trade others do because they control all the resources? Are the Lannisters (of Lannisport) and the Hightowers merchant lords or do they just collects tariffs, taxes, shares, and rents from the actual traders doing business in their cities?

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On 4/6/2018 at 5:13 PM, Lord Varys said:

George usually bases his stuff on the English example. And there the city of London - the capital of the kingdom - had an independent major who could actually stand up to the kings (and actually did that).

Only since Richard I.

Stephen gave London a charter... which Henry II took care to revoke.

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On 6/4/2018 at 9:45 PM, Lord Varys said:

George's setting completely ignores social mobility of that type in Westeros. The merchant class should be a very powerful and influential faction in KL, capable to threaten and intimidate the Crown. They should control the rabble and the city's law enforcement rather than the Crown (if not de iure then de facto) simply because they are the people generating the money, not the royals and their inefficient bureaucracy.

Lord Varys,

It's certainly true that in the 13th and 14th centuries a powerful merchant class emerged in Medieval Europe. They were very strong in urban areas, and in some cases they even surpassed most nobles in power (the Medicis in Florence is the most prominent example I can think of).

But I think that George has consciously chosen to depict in Westeros the situation as it was in earlier centuries. Merchants were poorer and unorganized back then. The nobility despised them because they were more difficult to tax and control than land workers. And the clergy also despised them and claimed banking and usury were against God's will. As a result, those activities tended to be done mostly by Jews and foreigners. Not only they were not influential, but they were usually discriminated and persecuted.

IMHO, the situation in the Seven Kingdoms is not that different. We see that there is not a local banking industry (with the crown obtaining loans from Lords or the Free Cities), not a particular blooming industry anywhere (besides wines and weaponry, all the elaborated products we've seen come from abroad) and even the artisanship doesn't seem very advanced (we've only seen Lord Darry's tapestries and Renly's medallion).

In Westeros, as in the real world, one would expect that with time cities will grow in population and the merchant class will get more powerful. Thinking about it, we actually see a small hint of the merchant class starting to play the "game" a little bit: it is said that the "Antler Men who tried to stage a coup against Joffrey and place Stannis in his place were mostly "traders, merchants, and craftsmen"

But another thought that comes to mind is that, when a long winter comes, farmers, hunters and fishermen who lives in the country are much more likely to survive than merchants living in the cities. Perhaps the seasonal pattern could be a good justification for the Westerosi lack of big cities and strong merchant class.

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What THB says. Westeros is definitely a melange of early and late medieval, and the development of urbanized mercantile towns in the later Middle Ages is much nearer the early Middle Ages than the Late in that it's rare, and that the nobility are powerful enough and entrenched enough that they largely resist it for fear that the autonomy and economic power that comes with them will be turned against them. 

The nobility very much has the upper hand at this point, unlike the post-Black Plague LMA.

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Posted (edited)

Oh, I can sort of accept that kind of explanation for the overall development, but it is really odd that the people making the money really have little and less to say in the actual cities we actually do have in Westeros - meaning KL, Oldtown, Lannisport, etc.

I mean, it is the merchants and traders who bring money to and make money in the cities, right? Yet they have no impact on the political life there.

I'm not saying the wealthy commoners should rule the Realm - but in the places they actually live (which prosper because of them) they should have considerable (or even tremendous) influence. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

And if you look at it closely then it is also odd why the hell Braavos and Pentos can prosper. They suffer from the same freak seasons, and if they have an effect on the development of the economy then, technically, the south of Westeros - especially the Reach and the eastern reaches of the Riverlands (the Stormlands not so much since it is not that great of land and has to deal with all those storms) should have as much potential to development the same way the southern reaches of Essos did.

I mean, the Reach has even more potential to be grand and developed in any possible way - they produce more food than they can eat, yet they live more or less like their neighbors.

The fact that there is no city around Highgarden is, quite frankly, very hard to swallow. Did the subjects of the Gardeners never want to be close to their rulers?

Edited by Lord Varys

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6 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

Oh, I can sort of accept that kind of explanation for the overall development, but it is really odd that the people making the money really have little and less to say in the actual cities we actually do have in Westeros - meaning KL, Oldtown, Lannisport, etc.

I mean, it is the merchants and traders who bring money to and make money in the cities, right? Yet they have no impact on the political life there.

I'm not saying the wealthy commoners should rule the Realm - but in the places they actually live (which prosper because of them) they should have considerable (or even tremendous) influence. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

Depends.

Medieval Paris did have Provost of Merchants... who was rather less influential than Lord Mayor of London. The French monarchy promoted the growth of Paris, but not autonomy, not even as much as London.

Look around Europe, and non-autonomous big capital cities were common. To repeat, Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, Constantinople, Moscow... you do not see rich commoner institutions.

 

What is a problem, though, is that in King´s Landing, we do not see all that much trace of resident nobles either.

Rome was the only city of 10th century Western Europe with over 10 000 people... and it was not merchants and traders bringing wealth to city either. It was landholders - landholders who held land outside the city and resided and spent the proceeds as absentee landholders inside the city. But we do not see much of these in Westeros.

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Another thing is that strong nobles or even soldiers took what they wanted so rich people would keep their property only as long as they are "protected" by some warlord or their own warriors and that "protection" is neither free or always available.

For instance in "Finland",(During that time eastern part of kingdom of Sweden), most peasants did not own horses but used oxen . Reason was that horses usually disappeared as soon as some passing by soldiers or another VIPs saw them. Oxen were less valuable so peasants could usually keep them. Naturally assuming that those VIPs were not hungry :(

There is also famous Finnish folk story about lynx fur. Basically a "lucky" peasant killed a lynx in his own lands and thought he would became rich by selling that skin. But Lady of Laukontori wanted that fur for free. But that peasant had funny idea that by law he owned it and refused of that honour. Then the lady decided to punish that rude peasant and sent her men to burn his farm and murder his family. Only reason that rude person survived is that he gave that fur gift to king of Sweden and the king was happy enough of that gift that he gave pardon to that rude peasant. It is interesting to notice that the lady of Laukontori did not made any crime :)

 

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Posted (edited)

I don't know if this is entirely accurate but supposedly one of Martin's sources was Frances and Joseph Gies' series on medieval life and their book on the medieval city (Life in a Medieval City) focuses on the of cities of Northwest Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, specifically the city of Troyes in around 1250 which was the capital of the county of Champagne, site of two of the cycle Champagne Fairs and was under the control of the Counts of Champagne. The merchants may have brought in the money, but that was brought about (and a lot of the money ended up with) the feudal lord that got approval for the fair, got tax revenue from the trading and helped facilitate the fairs and other trade in various ways.

Edited by louzeyre

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Speaking of medieval towns, Anne Wroe's book, A Fool and His Money, is a great look into the oddity of a partitioned town. Writing based on records she studied for the French town of Rodez, she wrote a lot about the oddities of a city with a wall dividing it into two halves, each with its own administration, each with its lord (the Bourg of Rodez, which owed fealty to the Counts of Rodez, and the City of Rodez, which owed fealty to the Bishop of Rodez). It's a good, brisk read, and I highly recommend it for some of its insights into life in medieval France in the 14th century.

Had I my druthers, that's what Gulltown would be -- the Graftons ruling a portion, the Shetts ruling another, with this weird situation between them.

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5 minutes ago, Ran said:

Had I my druthers, that's what Gulltown would be -- the Graftons ruling a portion, the Shetts ruling another, with this weird situation between them.

Is it not the same with Cox and Hawick in Saltpans?

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